November 19, 2018

If Bernie isn’t the nominee, where will his voters go?

As far as the California primary goes, Jonathan Rich, 29, is certain of one thing: Bernie Sanders will get his vote on June 7.

“I think that America right now is facing a really serious issue with income inequality, and the overall declining wages and the stagnant jobs for the working class and the middle class,” Rich, a member of the IKAR congregation, said in an interview. “I think Bernie Sanders is running a really great progressive, grass-roots campaign that’s giving voice to people who are working class and poor, and trying to take power back from the ‘1 percent.’ ”

But if Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton reaches the 2,383-delegate threshold to secure her party’s nomination for president, Rich, like a sizable minority of Sanders’ supporters, isn’t sure what he will do.

“I definitely would never vote for Donald Trump, and I don’t agree with Hillary Clinton’s positions,” Rich said. “I think she’s too center-right. If anything, it would be a vote not so much for her, but a vote against Donald Trump.”

Rich ticked off a list of Sanders’ positions he supports: universal health insurance, a nonprofit health care system, tuition-free public universities, getting rid of student loan debt, breaking up big banks and raising the federal minimum wage. He sees the economic policies of a Sanders administration as similar to those of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and in line with his flavor of Judaism.

“From a Jewish perspective, he kind of represents the idea of Judaism that I believe in, that is about social justice and standing up for the downtrodden and the poor, and fighting for equality,” Rich said.

Laura Wiley, a local musician, has very similar views, except she’s adamant she will not vote for Hillary Clinton in November.

“I’m writing in Bernie,” Wiley, 30, said. “If he doesn’t run independent, I’ll either write him in or I might vote [Green Party candidate] Jill Stein.”

Wiley’s reasons for refusing to vote for Clinton are similar to those of many other Sanders supporters (in a recent Washington Post/ABC poll, only 69 percent of Sanders’ supporters said they would vote for Clinton in the general election), and their reasons for rejecting her include her support of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, her relationships with some Wall Street donors and a belief that the Clinton Foundation is corrupt.

“She’s one of the ones who bailed out the banks and Wall Street … voting to keep the rich powerful for many years. She is part of that elite class,” Wiley said. “The main reason I can’t vote for Hillary Clinton — I can’t in good conscience vote for her when her No. 1 issue is my No. 1 issue, which is foreign policy. She really likes war. I do not.”

Wiley, like the vast majority of young Democratic primary voters, is not in line with the more mainstream wing of the Democratic Party, which, to them, Clinton represents. A USC Dornsife/L.A. Times statewide California poll from late March showed that 71 percent of likely Democratic primary voters ages 18 to 29 plan to vote for Sanders.

“Our country has gone too far down to continue with moderate candidates,” Wiley said. “I’ve always been a liberal who considered that moderate candidates were a good thing, [but] we need some massive reform, and we need somebody who’s going to fight for it, and people in the middle and the right are not going to fight for the change.”

Another Sanders supporter, Drew Levine, a 34-year-old attorney in Irvine, criticized Clinton for her “attitudes toward institutions that seek to maintain power in elite circles.” His description of a November election without Sanders on the ballot sounds more like Donald Trump versus not-Donald Trump than Trump versus Clinton. For Levine, a Clinton-Trump election would be a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils.

“I’ll vote for Clinton because I believe that the problem of the loss of political power [due to corporate influence] is a huge problem, but it’s not as much of a problem as racism, xenophobia, bigotry, protectionism, like Trump seems to embrace,” Levine said. 

Levine was highly critical of Clinton’s ties to Wall Street and other corporations, and said the “black-and-white” language of some of Sanders’ more ardent supporters disturbs him — language he reads, for example, in the comments section of economist Robert Reich’s Facebook page. Reich endorsed Sanders, but is also adamant that if Sanders does not secure the nomination, his supporters should vote for Clinton, if only to prevent Trump from winning.

“I hope that my fellow Bernie Sanders supporters are honest and measured as we move forward,” Levine said. “I hope that they end up recognizing what I consider to be the danger of a Trump presidency.”

Regarding Israel, Sanders’ Jewish supporters appear to see eye-to-eye with the senator’s non-Jewish supporters: They believe U.S. policy overly favors Israel, and that Israel and the U.S. have not pursued peace with the Palestinians aggressively enough. 

The Vermont senator’s statements on Israel suggest he would change the U.S. government’s “pro-Israel” posture, and have concerned traditional supporters of the Jewish state. Sanders has said, among other things, that Israel used “disproportionate” force in its 2014 war with Hamas, and that U.S. policy has been “one-sided” toward the country. On May 24, Sanders appointed Cornel West and James Zogby — both outspoken critics of Israel — as his advisers to the Democratic Party’s platform drafting committee in advance of the party’s national convention in Philadelphia in July. Both West, an academic and activist, and Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, believe the Democratic Party needs to prioritize resolving the plight and “occupation” of the Palestinians, as West put it.

Wiley largely shares their views. “Because we’re Jewish, and because we love Israel, we just see the Palestinians as the problem and Israel as the one trying to fix the problem,” Wiley said. “I think the fact that Bernie even acknowledges that they’re people is going to be a big step in moving forward.”

Rich described Sanders’ position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a “refreshing perspective.”

“It’s amazing that we have the first major Jewish presidential candidate who’s willing to voice concerns over the humanity of the Palestinians,” Rich said.

Howie Mandel, a prominent local obstetrician-gynecologist, counts himself as a strong Clinton critic and a Sanders supporter — although not your average one. Mandel was active in the “Draft Biden” movement when, for a few months in late 2015, Vice President Joe Biden was strongly considering a run for president. Mandel also wanted former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent, to run. In March, Bloomberg decided not to run, saying he feared his independent candidacy could result in either Trump or Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) becoming president.

Mandel said that if his options in November are Clinton or Trump, he will bypass the presidential race and vote only in down-ballot ones.

“She’s not honest; she’s not authentic; she’s a war hawk and I think she has not done adequate due diligence,” Mandel said of Clinton, pointing to her support of the U.S. intervention in Libya in 2011 as an example of the latter two.

While Mandel said he will vote for Sanders on June 7, he added that he himself is “not a socialist — [I’m] a social liberal, fiscal conservative.”

“I don’t agree with a lot of [Sanders’] statements,” Mandel said. “I think his policies I could argue against on a fiscal point of view. I’m not a single-payer person; I don’t believe college should be free for everybody. I disagree with some of his global concepts. I don’t think the banks have to be broken up, but I think they could be supervised or regulated strongly.”

But, Mandel said, Sanders “is not corrupt.”

In fact, in an email before his interview with the Journal, Mandel examined why he’s so opposed to Clinton, whom he had liked during her husband’s presidency in the 1990s.

“I’ve had a hard time understanding why I have such ‘animus’ to Secretary Clinton,” Mandel wrote. “Clearly I was a supporter in the early ’90s, but 20 years of following her career has really changed my feelings — from admiration to puzzlement to dislike to disrespect to full heart and mindful ‘animus.’ ”